Meet Skinny Jeans.

He’s a 1-year-old mix with short brown fur, an old scar thin like a strand of hair across his snout. There’s probably some pit bull and terrier in there, maybe another combination on top of that. But whatever the amalgam of breeds, Skinny Jeans is a purebred goofball who enjoys walks. His hazel eyes plead for love and when he shakes his tail, his whole body shakes, too.

So, go meet Skinny Jeans.

He’ll stick to you like, well, skinny jeans, searching for more scratches. He’ll jump onto your front to better reach your face, all in the hope of licking you. Skinny Jeans needs love — like 100-some other dogs at Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter.

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There’s also Washed Denim, who came in with Skinny Jeans. There’s Bookworm, who’s still so thin shelter staff outfitted him in a puppy jacket to stay warm. There are Chantel DuBois and Cuddlebear and Tibia and Betty Boop and Petal. There are Amore and Wilbur and Carbon Copy, and they all need us — they all need homes.

In December, I began volunteering at BARCS, making the most of my downtime during the Orioles’ quiet offseason. It’s not a unique choice — with the new year came an influx of new volunteers, all eager to help — but that doesn’t diminish how rewarding each visit to BARCS becomes.

Skinny Jeans, a dog at BARCS, is a hugger. He’s also looking for a loving home. (Andy Kostka)

You check in, then peruse the whiteboards outside each kennel room for which dogs haven’t been outside recently. Then you get to work: the most fulfilling work, complete with tail wagging and kisses. The walks aren’t the longest, looping around the property’s trail network for 10 to 20 minutes before an occasional stop in a fenced play area. But it gives the dogs something to look forward to. It gets them out of their cages.

You’ll see all kinds of dogs: tiny ones and tall ones and stout ones and scrawny ones. There was a 10-week-old puppy that knew nothing but to give kisses to each passerby, and she will go to a home quickly. The puppies usually are in and out in a flash. A lost dog was returned to its owner, and the squeals of delight from the dog underscored how acutely these animals feel separation and joy when reunited.

And there are the scared ones, who hide behind the cage door or bark and growl at the fencing. The longer some dogs are in the shelter, the more kennel stressed they become. That’s the case for Skinny Jeans, who loves people as much as ever but has exhibited more dog reactivity of late.

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Those dogs remind me of my family’s own dog, Parks, who just needed a chance.

We met Parks as her foster family right as the coronavirus pandemic was shutting down the world. She needed some time away from the Montgomery County shelter, a staff member told us, time to unwind without the near-constant stress of being surrounded by other dogs in a confined space.

We failed almost immediately as fosters — and yet we won, because Parks, named after the street she was found on as a stray, was ours. As a German Shepherd, she’s incredibly protective of her people, and we’re lucky enough to be those people. She is a therapy dog for my dad, napping across his legs, and she is an All-Pro frisbee catcher in our backyard.

Andy Kostka takes a hike with his dog, Parks, whom he adopted in 2020. (Andy Kostka)

When I walk around BARCS, I see Parks in each kennel. They don’t all look like her, but their stories align. Parks was one of these dogs once. Now she has a couch to stretch on and my mom bakes her homemade biscuits.

Watching Parks blossom as a near-perfect family dog gives me hope for each and every one of the dogs at BARCS. The start to their lives hasn’t gone as hoped, but they have so much left to offer, if given the opportunity.

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Parks is firmly a one-dog-household kind of girl, a reactive dog who has grown in confidence as well as restraint. For as much as I’d like to take home a million more, I know the best way to help these other dogs find their forever homes is one walk at a time. They show off their sitting skills when a treat comes out of my back pocket, and they work off the pent-up energy in the play yard and on the trails surrounding the shelter.

For many, raising a dog from puppyhood is the dream — and it’s understandable. The feeling of offering a dog a deserved second chance, however, can be even more rewarding. This becomes an even more urgent consideration at times like this, when a push is underway to ease overcrowding at BARCS. Fosters, as ever, are vital.

So go meet Skinny Jeans, or Sandy Cheeks, or Nayla or Evergreen.

A 20-minute walk can make their day better. It can make your whole week great. And maybe — if you really click with one of these loving pups — it can fill a hole in your life you may not have even known was there.

Andy Kostka is one of The Baltimore Banner’s Orioles reporters. He also loves dogs.

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